It’s on! The Toronto International Film Festival officially starts tomorrow. Every year, TIFF brings celebrities, great films, parties and swag, and with it, the annual Tastemakers Lounge. In its sixth year, the most-hyped swag lounge of the festival wouldn’t be possible without co-founder Leesa Butler. She’s made many trips up to the fourth floor as of late, to plan and execute the details of this year’s (fantastic) Tastemakers Lounge. We were able to catch some stories from the past six years – here they are.
Debra Goldblatt and I met when she was doing publicity for Canadian Idol (my husband Jake was a judge), getting the judges seen out on red carpets and events. Jake didn’t like to go without me, and Debra and I quickly hit it off. I was new to Toronto, and overwhelmed at the lack of vision behind event gifting in Canada, given the popularity of gift lounges everywhere else celebrities gathered. Quite simply, Debra and I had lunch one day to get to know each other better and ended up brainstorming Tastemakers.
Film festival was barely a couple of months away, but we made it work, and launched the first-ever swag lounge at TIFF in 2005. Since then, we have hosted Tastemakers Lounges at every major celebrity event in Canada. Our biggest event is during TIFF.
One of our crowning moments was HGTV filming the Green Lounge episode we did, when The Designer Guys designed our lounge in entirely eco-friendly materials. During TIFF, I spend 10 days making celebs and VIPs smile with all kinds of great products and services that we bring together in the Tastemakers Lounge. As the VP of Operations, I work on logistics and sponsor relations, and Debra and her rock-it promotions team work the media. We both secure sponsorships and develop the vision.
There have been some truly hilarious moments, like when Shirley MacLaine, who would allow us to photograph her but refused to pose, was so curious about what was in the lounge that she nearly tore it apart. She was poking through boxes in the storage room like a child, “What’s in here?”, and nearly walked off with a sponsor’s purse, saying “This is nice, you’re giving THIS away?”.
The year Slumdog Millionaire got its rave reviews in Toronto (putting it back on the map for global domination), the director Danny Boyle and top cast members were in the lounge. And the very moment Danny is checking out a tie, one of the key songs from his movie (with Ewan McGregor) Trainspotting came over the stereo. Danny turns to us, cocks his head to listen and says, “Cool, guys”.
I love it when they come back after having been to Tastemakers years before, and remember how much they loved something they got from us. Those stories are priceless. That’s why we do this.
Butler’s knack for marketing appeared almost as early as her love of fashion. After growing up in the United States and working in advertising, public relations and online marketing agencies, Butler relocated to Canada.
Here, she created Divine Lab, Inc. with a focus on marketing consulting and event planning for companies like Kontent Publishing, the Fashion Design Council of Canada and Luminato Festival of Arts & Creativity. Butler teamed up with a publicist friend in 2005 to launch Tastemakers Lounge, the first-ever Canadian gift lounge. These swag lounges promote brands and products to media and celebrities at high-profile Canadian events, like the Toronto International Film Festival, JUNO Awards, Gemini Awards and Genie Awards. In 2006, she created The F-list, a web community for fashion lovers in Canada. The F-list was born out of a desire to embrace Canadian fashion designers the best way she knows how – by promoting them.
With designer profiles, sale and event listings, plus a monthly newsletter (The F Word) with news stories from the front lines of fashion, The F-list champions the Canadian fashion scene. With the advent of social media, her consulting focus has turned to teaching corporations and independent businesses how to engage customers and build their brand using Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools. Butler sits on the board of Fashion Group International, a global fashion industry organization based in her former home, New York City. Butler’s fashion advice and knowledge is regularly published in various magazines and websites, and she often emcees fashion or marketing events. In her spare time, she reorganizes her massive shoe collection.